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Clark v. Astrue

April 6, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge

Electronically Filed


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Ada Ellen Clark ("Clark") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act") [42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433]. Consistent with the customary practice in the Western District of Pennsylvania, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the record developed during the administrative proceedings.

After careful consideration of the Commissioner's decision, the memoranda of the parties, and the entire evidentiary record, the Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is "supported by substantial evidence" within the meaning of § 405(g). Therefore, the Court will deny Clark's motion for summary judgment, grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, and affirm the Commissioner's administrative decision.

II. Procedural History

Clark protectively applied for DIB on July 30, 2007, alleging disability as of July 11, 2007. R. 111, 134. The application was denied by the state agency on October 11, 2007. R. 74. Clark responded on November 23, 2007, by filing a timely request for an administrative hearing.

R. 81-82. On December 3, 2008, a hearing was held in Morgantown, West Virginia, before Administrative Law Judge J.E. Sullivan (the "ALJ"). R. 18. Clark, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing. R. 24-58. Testimony was also taken from Dr. Lawrence Ostrowski ("Dr. Ostrowski"), an impartial vocational expert. R. 59-66.

In a decision dated February 26, 2009, the ALJ determined that Clark was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. R. 4-17. The Appeals Council denied Clark's request for review on May 29, 2009, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner in this case. R. 1. Clark commenced this action on July 16, 2009, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Doc. No. 1. Clark and the Commissioner filed motions for summary judgment on December 16, 2009, and December 17, 2009, respectively. Doc. Nos. 7 & 9. These motions are the subject of this memorandum opinion.

III. Statement of the Case

In her decision, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2011.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 11, 2007, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease in the neck, back and right hip and bilateral knees (Exhibit 15F) and nonsevere gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), depression, high blood pressure, arthritis, hypertension, hypothyroidism and endolymphatic hydrops by history or benign positional vertigo or anxiety related and/or migraine/cervicogenic dizziness, probable fibromyalgia and osteoporosis (20 CFR 404.1521 et seq.).

4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1525 and 404.1526).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, scaffolds, and occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and/or crawling; with sit-stand option throughout the day or without breaking task. (SSR 96-5p).

6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).

7. The claimant was born on March 16, 1955 and was 52 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).

8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).

9. Transferable job skills are not an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 404.1568).

10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569a).

11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from July 11, 2007 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).

R. 9-17. Clark's arguments all relate, in one form or another, to the ALJ's alleged failure to fully account for her vertigo and resulting "dizziness" in determining her residual functional capacity. Doc. No. 8, p. 2.

IV. Standards of Review

Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decisions on disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)*fn1 and 1383(c)(3)*fn2. Section 405(g) permits a district court to review transcripts and records upon which a determination of the Commissioner is based. Because the standards for eligibility under Title II (42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, regarding e standards under Title XVI (42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f, regarding Supplemental Security Income, or "SSI"), regulations and decisions rendered under the Title II disability standard, 42 U.S.C. § 423, are pertinent and applicable in Title ...

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